September 2013 // What’s Happening In Dar Magazine //
The importance of Dar es Salaam in East Africa today – with its ever-full ports, its recent economical growth spurt, and the increased attention from world leaders – this seat was once held by the little sleepy town of Bagamoyo, just 75 km up the road from Dar. There’s not much left of this once-imperial Bagamoyo, other than a few massive stone pillars that jut out onto the beach where each day a flurry of fishermen scramble to reel in their catch. The capital was moved away in 1891 to Dar es Salaam and eventually, recently, further inland to Dodoma. The move took much of the bustle, that hurried busyness that economic prosperity tends to attract, away from the town. Which is naturally, precisely the reason to head to Bagamoyo for the weekend.
Vacation options abound near Dar es Salaam, and Bagamoyo, with its lack of tourists and still relatively-unknown dive and snorkeling scene, is giving more popular attractions such as South Beach a run for its money. The historic town provides a few tourist activities: stop by the cluster of carving artists whittling away, visit a small stonetown rich with slave-trade history, or view cultural crafts in an art museum that hosts an art festival once a year. But the allure of Bagamoyo is its calm vibe, the sleepy character of a city that is the polar opposite to our own, congested, frantic Dar.
There are several hotels in the area, scattered along one sprawling coastline that curls around to reveal an expansive Indian Ocean. Options are plenty; Oceanic Bay Hotel has close to a hundred rooms, the Travellers’ Lodge has a Fishermans’ Plate that came highly recommended – but only New Bagamoyo Beach Resort offers a cozy, island-style stay combined with daily dive trips, which take off any given morning from its small privately guarded beach. New Bagamoyo Beach Resort is the first to offer dive and snorkel trips to explore these waters which are, for now, still untouched by the tourism industry.
The dive program is still in its infancy, which provides for a luxuriously intimate experience. Every trip seems personalized, and the flexibility offered to each guest excites the inner adventurer in all. Daily trips are offered (with advance notice), which depart by motor boat from the hotel every morning around 9am. A pristine sandbank sits just off the shores of Bagamoyo, where untouched coral and marine wildlife, beautiful in its numbered species, sit waiting for divers to swim by and marvel at. If diving or even snorkeling isn’t your jam, bring a towel (and lots of sunscreen) and lounge on the sandbank, where if you squint through the sun rays, you might even see Zanzibar in the distance. Arriving just as the tide reveals the sand, and witnessing an island appear before your eyes, is truly a magical experience.
Dive trips are led by a happy Frenchman named Christian, who arrived to Tanzania in December armed with a small English vocabulary and some top-of-the-line dive equipment. Christian’s accent is undeniably French, as well as the fist pump he displays when his disco jams bast through his portable speakers on the boat. With the enthusiasm reminiscent of another French sea explorer, he scopes out the open waters in the area and plans unique and authentic trips for both the novice and expert diver.
Christian’s thick accent can be occasionally hard to decipher over the roaring of the motor boat, but his command of English is impressive for someone who arrived with a few words in his pocket. Regardless, whatever lack of fluency exists in his language, he makes up for in his fluency in the water. Competent and confident in the water, as much as he is compassionate and carefree on the boat. Most diving and snorkeling courses include equipment, water and snacks, time to explore the sandbank, and a light lunch.
The resort itself to where the dive tours are linked is simple, functional, not plain but not overly luxurious either. If you’re looking for a spa-like lagoon of a stay, you’re better off heading up to Ras Kutani for the weekend. Here, the emphasis is on relaxed comfort. And they do this to a tee. Tucked away behind a leafy trail, New Bagamoyo Beach Resort both comforts the body and relaxes the soul. There is wifi, that is admittedly spotty at times, but one might find that a good book is preferred over any screen.
The resort offers 12 rooms, all remodeled just under two years ago. Fresh coats of paint and clean tiled bathrooms, comfortable beds equipped with mosquito nets and ample hot water are all testament to the recent facelift. Three bandas sit facing the ocean, where camp-style living (and shared bathrooms) can be had at a cheaper rate. The staff is friendly, and willing to converse at leisure. Jovial quips are heard from many of the local staff, who are willing to hold a conversation in English or Swahili – no matter how proficient either party is in either language. Scattered about are groups speaking in French, English, Hindu, and more. A large open restaurant is the main draw, open all day, leading out to a private, guarded strip of beach.
Though it’s a romantic stay for two, the resort is probably best enjoyed with a group of friends. After a day out on the water, the open-air restaurant is perfect for a hangout spot. On a regular basis, friends in clusters of four or six play cards, smoke cigars, and imbibe until the late hours of the evening. Dogs, who are allowed at the resort, run around greeting guests and owners alike (this is another major draw, especially for all Dar residents who are looking to get out of the house with their furry friends for a weekend).
The bulk of those who frequent Bagamoyo are residents of Dar es Salaam, with tourists instead opting for Zanzibar or South Beach, giving the town a homey feel and a casual vibe. But this probably won’t last too much longer – As with everything else in East Africa today, it’s all changing – and fast. The Chinese are backing a multi-billion dollar project to build what is projected to be the largest port in Sub-saharan Africa. What was originally touted as being a way to lift the congestion and clogging from our Dar ports, it might simply overtake it all. Only time will tell. In the meantime, drive up the one-lane freeway into Bagamoyo for a relaxing weekend and see for yourself!
From Dar’s city center, follow Bagamoyo Road straight to into the town of Bagamoyo. Foolproof, even for the most directionally-challenged of drivers. Once in town, follow the main, paved road, and veer right when the road comes to an intersection. From here, Bagamoyo Beach Hotel will be about 1.5km on your right.
Travel Distance: 75km
Approximate Travel Time: 2 Hours (with light traffic)
Prices for rooms are as follows, all prices are in USD and include breakfast
Beach bandas are also available for $15 (single) and $30 (double), breakfast also included.
Credit Cards not accepted.
French-influenced cuisine and local seafood are abundant on the menu, with a few other continental options. Food is good, albeit slightly expensive. The restaurant is open as long as customers are there.
Dogs are allowed in all rooms, provided proof of vaccination and they are kept on leashes at all times in public hotel areas. Dogs must be well trained and social with people and other dogs. The hotel reserves the right to approve or deny pets’ admission upon arrival.
Sample diving rates
Single Dive: $55 (equipment rental additional $15)
4-Dive Package card: $190 (equipment rental additional $15)
PADI Scuba Certification Course: $320
Open Water Course: $480
Advanced Open Water: $440
Snorkeling (min. 2 people): $45 per person
For inquiries and to reserve a room and/or dive trip at New Bagamoyo Beach Resort, contact the hotel at +255 783 261 655. Or, email to: email@example.com